Research event

Big Data for political campaigning

A presentation by Andrea Römmele (Hertie School) and Rachel Gibson (University of Manchester). This event is part of the Digital Governance Research Colloquium hosted by the Centre for Digital Governance and the Data Science Lab.

Abstract: This article sets out the case that democracies are now entering a 4th phase of ‘Data-driven’ Political Campaigning. Building on the existing campaigns literature, we identify several key shifts in practice that define the new phase. Namely: (1) an organizational and strategic dependency on digital technology and ‘big data’ ; (2) a reliance on networked communication; (3) the individualized micro-targeting of campaign messages; and (4) the internationalization of the campaign sphere. Departing from prior studies, we also argue that the new phase is distinguished by a bifurcation into two variants – the scientific and subversive. While sharing a common core these two modes differ in that the former retains a commitment to the normative goals of campaigning, i.e. to mobilise and inform voters while the latter explicitly rejects and subverts these aims, focusing instead on demobilization and the spread of misinformation. Both are presented as abstract or ‘ideal’ types although we do point to how features of each have appeared in recent election campaigns by mainstream and populist parties. We conclude by discussing the implications of these trends for the longer term future health of democracy.  

Rachel Gibson is a Professor of Politics at the University of Manchester. From 2016 to 2019 she was Director of the Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research and has held academic positions at the University of Leicester and the University Salford in the UK and internationally at the Australian National University and Mannheim Centre for European Social Research. From 2020 she will lead an ERC Advanced Investigator Project examining Digital Campaigning in Electoral Democracies (DiCED), and has previously led several projects examining the impact of the Internet on political parties, campaigns and voters funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC). She has been a PI/Co-I on the Australian Election Study since 2001 and the Australian Candidate Study. She was co-editor of the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (2011-16) and is a member of editorial boards of Political Studies, the Journal of Information Technology and Politics, Information Polity and the Australian Journal of Political Science. 

Andrea Römmele is Dean of Executive Education and Professor for Communication in Politics and Civil Society at the Hertie School. Her research interests are comparative political communications, political parties and public affairs. She was Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Modern German Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2012/13 and has been a visiting fellow at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, and the Australian National University in Canberra. Römmele is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal for Political Consulting and Policy Advice and also works as a consultant to political and corporate campaigns. She obtained her master's degree from the University of California at Berkeley, a PhD from Heidelberg University and a habilitation from the Free University of Berlin.

Learn more about the Digital Governance Research Colloquium hosted by the Centre for Digital Governance and the Data Science Lab.

Prior registration is not required.